World Cup 2014 hosts Brazil might be clear favourites to win a sixth title when the action kicks off on June 12, but there is many a slip between cup and lip.
The likes of Spain, Germany and Argentina—who have six World Cup wins between them—cannot simply be dismissed as also-rans and are expected to be the key challengers to Brazil, per Oddschecker.com.
Only one team can win it, of course, so below is a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each and a prediction for how they will fare.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has been there and done it, having already won the World Cup with the Selecao in 2002 when Brazil last triumphed.
He is a single-minded manager whose team is largely based on defensive solidity. Captain Thiago is rated as one of the best defenders in the world, as David Beckham told beIN Sport, via Sambafoot.
A 4-2-3-1 formation does give Brazil's attack a certain freedom, although it is somewhat top heavy and the transition from defence to the forward players is something of a weakness. This was highlighted at the 2013 Confederations Cup, although Scolari's side still went on to win the tournament.
Brazil's key man Neymar also has a question mark hanging over his form and focus following a high-profile tax-related investigation into his transfer to Barcelona, per the BBC, along with the Catalan club's failure to hold on to the Liga title.
However, Brazil's first big test is likely to come against Germany in the semi-final, and by that time they and Neymar should have hit their stride.
Having won two European Championships on the bounce and as reigning world champions, the Spanish just won't go away.
Their tiki-taka style is renowned for wearing down opponents, but they also head into the tournament with an enviable defensive record, having conceded just three goals in UEFA qualifying.
And they have one of the most experienced squads at the tournament, as Infostrada Sports points out:
That said, Vicente del Bosque's side scored relatively few goals (14) and let two-goal leads slip twice, against France and Finland.
The Spanish are there for the taking and face a tough route to the final with a potential quarter-final against Italy and semi-final against Argentina. It could be a tournament too far for Spain.
Following the embarrassment of their performance at World Cup 2010 under Diego Maradona, Argentina have made great progress under the stewardship of coach Alejandro Sabella.
Four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi is now beginning to replicate his club form for his national team. And with a supporting cast that includes Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria, the Albiceleste were top scorers in CONMEBOL qualifying as they secured pole position.
However, unlike Brazil and Spain, their defence is suspect, and Sabella's side only managed to keep a clean sheet in a quarter of their matches—a smaller proportion than any other Brazil-bound team, per MSN Sport.
Messi's Argentina could face Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo—the man who took Messi's crown as World Player of the Year—in the quarter-finals and then Spain in the semis.
The Germans have one of the best midfields in the world, and in Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, they have two players with 100 caps who are still at the peak of their powers. The Germans topped the goalscoring charts in UEFA qualifying, with 36 in 10 matches, and will test any defence.
Their weakness appears to be down the flanks as decent wingers have been able to deliver crosses with relative ease, even if they are not converted.
History suggests this German team can also falter in the latter stages against the bigger teams, having finished third in 2006 and 2010. It could be case of deja vu as they will likely face Brazil in the semi-finals.
Honorary mentions must also go to Italy as old hands and Belgium as dark horses. It's also worth noting that the last time the World Cup was held on Brazilian soil in 1950, Uruguay—2010 World Cup semi-finalists and current Copa America champions—won it.
Home advantage doesn't always equal victory.
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